MIDDLEBURY —Middlebury would be well served in hiring an economic development director to actively recruit new businesses to Addison County’s shire town, according to local stakeholders.
That’s the conclusion of a Middlebury College student hired by the town this summer to research its economic development policy and determine whether it would be wise to hire a director to spearhead commercial, retail and industrial growth.
Middlebury College sophomore Ryan Kim arrived at a ‘yes’ answer to this question after more than 200 hours of research, during which he interviewed 27 local stakeholders, including businesspeople, town officials, investors, and marketing professionals.
Kim synthesized the opinions of his interviewees in an 18-page “Town of Middlebury Economic Assessment Report” that is currently being reviewed by the Middlebury selectboard. The report also includes feedback from economic development officials in communities of comparable size to Middlebury.
“Ryan has been an outstanding find,” said Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger, who along with Selectman Nick Artim provided guidance to Kim during the project.
“He had an amazing ability to understand the issue and pursue the people he needed to talk to,” Finger added.
Impetus for the Kim’s hiring and study came from town meeting participants last month. The selectboard had considered asking voters to create a new economic director position. The $100,000 annual salary would have been shared by the town (50 percent), Middlebury College (35 percent), and the business community (15 percent).
While townspeople OK’d a separate $25,000 Middlebury marketing position, the selectboard decided not ask for an economic development director due to a tight budget year and a desire to study the proposal some more.
Kim ultimately rose to the top of the list of college students interested in undertaking the study. Kim, 19, is a sophomore who also works part-time for David Donahue, special assistant to Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz.
Kim’s first step was compiling a list of contacts in Middlebury’s business scene. The list included 27 people, including Addison County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Andy Maier; Middlebury Business Partnership President Donna Donahue; Porter Medical Center President James Daily; National Bank of Middlebury President G. Kenneth Perine; Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny; Liebowitz; and Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury.
Interviews with the 27 people revealed a great deal of support for establishing a new position of Middlebury economic development director (MEDD), according to Kim. Fifteen of the 27 interviewees “had a specific idea of how they envisioned the MEDD position and were firmly in support of its creation,” Kim wrote in his report.
The remaining 12 respondents held opinions ranging from supporting a proposed MEDD in concept to believing the job was not yet adequately developed, according to the report.
Those supporting the position told Kim the MEDD could, among other things:
• Actively maintain an updated inventory of available property in Middlebury.
• Keep in close contact with complementary organizations, such as the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC) and Better Middlebury Partnership.
• Work closely with Middlebury College’s alumni network to identify and nurture potential businesses ripe for relocation.
• Work with town officials on a plan to support and retain existing local businesses.
• Contact and target prospective regional, national or international businesses looking to move to Middlebury.
The MEDD could be governed by a five-person advisory board made up of representatives picked by those funding the position, according to the report. The MEDD could also work out of the ACEDC or town offices and report to the town manager, the report suggests.
Funding for the position could be distributed among several parties, as was proposed before, Kim suggests.
“No bold endeavor is without risk, but if a small town would ever be ready to hire an EDD, it is the town of Middlebury today,” Kim wrote in the conclusion to his report. “The success of this position is entirely contingent on dedication and cooperation from the community, but with the community-minded individuals in all corners of the town seeking an improved economy, I can only believe that the time has come to set about hiring an economic development director.”
Town officials said Kim’s report has laid a solid foundation for new consideration of a MEDD position. Kim noted Middlebury recently formed a five-member task force to quantify the cost of the post and further define a job description, among other things.
Kim said he thoroughly enjoyed researching the report, which gave him an opportunity to frequently stray beyond the confines of Middlebury College campus.
“I had a lot more hands-on, face-to-face interaction with the community, more than I would have probably had during my entire four years in college,” Kim said.
Artim said Kim’s work will provide great guidance to the board as it again considers advancing the MEDD position for town approval.
“This (report) serves as a good baseline for the selectboard and the town to determine where we go from here,” Artim said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]